Public Hearing on proposed MBTA cuts

Monday night (February 6, 2012) from 5 pm to 7 pm at the City Council chambers at Lowell City Hall (375 Merrimack Street), the MBTA will hold a public hearing on the fee increase and service cutbacks to commuter rail that have been proposed to help balance the T’s budget. The proposal would increase the one-way train fare from Lowell to Boston from the current $6.75 to $9.75, a jump of 44.4%. Perhaps more damaging to residents of Lowell will be the complete elimination of all weekend service which would wipe out a total of 16 trains, 8 in each direction, which run every two hours on the weekends. Also eliminated would be after 10 pm weekday trains which would eliminate the 10:40 pm and 12:10 am Boston to Lowell runs and the 10:35 pm Lowell to Boston train. Today’s Globe has an article that analyzes the reasons behind the financial shortfall at the MBTA.

The proposed service cutback will be devastating to Lowell. Many of our residents work or go to school in Boston and not necessarily at 9 to 5 weekday jobs. While we have excellent hospitals here in Lowell, many of our residents take advantage of the best-in-the-world health care available at some Boston hospitals and while normal appointments might not be late nights and weekends, some are and there’s always the need to visit hospitalized relatives and friends. The best way to get to and from an event at Boston Garden (or whatever it’s called now) is by train and the elimination of after-10 pm trains would erase that as an option. This doesn’t even consider those from greater Boston who come to Lowell (or who we want to come to Lowell) for education and cultural activities.

In an age where more people are (or should be) returning to cities and cutting back on the use of personal vehicles, making such a drastic cut in the level of public transportation service seems incredibly short-sighted. Please consider showing up at the hearing, even if you do not wish to speak on the issue. Numbers count.

3 Responses to Public Hearing on proposed MBTA cuts

  1. Joe S. says:

    In FY 2010 the MBTA was facing a budget deficit of $160M. At that time the Governor was pushing for Transportation reform, and a 19 cent a gallon gasoline tax increase with part of that dedicated to MA DOT to help the MBTA close the deficit.

    Subsequently, there was a watered-down version of Transportation reform, not too much in cost reduction, no gasoline tax increase to provide revenue, but a increase in the State sales tax to 6.25% with $160M dedicated to the MBTA. There were no increases in fares.

    Now, with ridership up, but no increase in fares, the MBTA coincidentally is facing a $161M deficit. There are calls for fare increases, service reduction and even the gasline tax is put on the table. Nothing about true cost reduction. No discussion of how the previous cost reduction efforts have yielded results.

    Looking at the recent MBTA budget, we can see that they have made some progress in reducing debt service costs ($435M, $393M and $362M in the last 3 years). However, from FY 11 to FY 12 the “fringe benefit” cost have increased from $186M to $214M, nearly 10%! So much for reform.

    The MBTA has operating revenue of $505M (FY 12), but non-operating revenue of $1151M, mostly subsidized by the taxpayer ($152M local assessment, $777M from basic (5%) sales tax and “contract assistance” (from the sales tax increase) of $160M. So nearly 70% of its revenue is subsidized. There should be no more.

    So that would leave the options for new revenue with the operating revenue side, and the option for less expense with the operating costs. The recent 10% increase in “fringe” give a hint of where to start on the latter – not service reductions, unless some particular service falls far short of the 30% revenue contribution to its costs.

    For additional revenue, a moderate fare increase – enough to make up for general inflation over the past few years of no fare increase, but no more. And then the MBTA should expand the options for fares – for example 1-day (or 3-day) cards that would give visitors unrestricted use over that time for a fixed fee. They may even increase ridership in the non-priority hours with such a plan.

    In conclusion, this is an example of going to the well once too often, and should be the catalyst for change based on efficiency of operations, not cutbacks in service or more subsidies.

  2. PaulM says:

    These proposed increases in ticket prices and cuts in service between Lowell and Boston will be negative in the extreme for public higher education in Lowell, both UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College. More expensive fares will be a barrier and less frequent service will limit the ability students without cars or who are trying to reduce car use to travel between Lowell and the train hub in Boston. On the weekends, campus resident students will find it more difficult to take advantage of everything Boston and Cambridge and other places along the line have to offer.

    And making it more expensive and less convenient to take the train won’t help with that vision of “the next great arts hub” that some have described when talking about Lowell.

  3. Christopher says:

    The way to increase MBTA revenue is with more trains rather than raising the rates themselves.